Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s oldest and most prestigious institutes of higher learning, placing third in the country in the latest university rankings by the London-based Times Higher Education.
It was founded by the Anglo-Indian scholar Syed Ahmad Khan, who wanted to set up a school based on the British models of Oxford and Cambridge. It is open to all irrespective of caste, creed, religion or gender. In short, it’s meant to be a bastion of liberal education.
Despite its reputation, however, the university was recently thrown into an uproar after a vice-chancellor banned female undergraduate students from its main library. The academic’s reason: they’re “distracting” male students, Agence France-Presse reported.
Vice-Chancellor Zameeruddin Shah was said to have given a variety of reasons for the prohibition. First, he reportedly said that the road to the Maulana Azad Library was not safe for women, but later he was quoted as saying that there would be “four times more boys” in the library if women were allowed inside.
Besides, women could just order their books online, Shah, a retired army general, was said to have argued.
The ban raised an outcry not only within the campus but across the nation. Even India’s education minister Smriti Irani condemned Shah’s edict.
“As a woman, such reports don’t just hurt you but make you angry as well,” Irani said, adding that “such reports from an educational institution are insulting to our daughters”.
A law intern, supported by a human rights group, filed a petition with a court in norther India seeking to overturn the prohibition, saying that access to the library was a basic right for all students, BBC News reported.
In its ruling, the Allahabad High Court said it’s unconstitutional for female students to be barred from the library.
It said if there were not enough seats available for female students, the university must make provision to accommodate them. Shah was told to reply to the court by Nov. 24.
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